Health and Science

CDC says diabetes, lung disease, heart disease and smoking may increase risk of severe coronavirus illness

People wait in line to be tested for coronavirus disease (COVID-19) while wearing protective gear, outside Elmhurst Hospital Center in the Queens borough of New York, March 30, 2020.
Jeenah Moon | Reuters

People with diabetes, chronic lung disease, heart disease or those who smoke may be at increased risk of developing severe complications if they get infected with the coronavirus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday.

In its first report looking at underlying health conditions that could make COVID-19 worse, the CDC analyzed data from confirmed cases in all 50 states and four U.S. territories between Feb. 12 and March 28. The agency examined 7,162 cases where data was available on underlying health conditions or other potential risk factors. Confirmed cases among people repatriated to the United States from Wuhan, China, where the virus emerged, and the Diamond Princess cruise ship were excluded, the agency said.

Among the 7,162 U.S. cases, 37.6%, had one or more underlying health conditions or risk factors, and 62.4%, had none of these conditions reported, according to the CDC's preliminary findings. The most commonly reported conditions were diabetes, chronic lung disease and cardiovascular disease.

The CDC found that a higher percentage of patients with underlying conditions were admitted to the hospital or into intensive care than patients without underlying conditions. About 78% of ICU patients and 71% of hospitalized COVID-19 patients had one or more reported underlying health conditions, the CDC said. In contrast, 27% of the patients who were not hospitalized had at least one underlying health condition, the agency said. 

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"These preliminary findings suggest that in the United States, persons with underlying health conditions or other recognized risk factors for severe outcomes from respiratory infections appear to be at a higher risk for severe disease from COVID-19 than are persons without these conditions," the CDC wrote. It recommended that people with underlying health conditions keep at least a 30-day supply of medication, a 2-week supply of food and other necessities and to know  the COVID-19 symptoms.

The new data comes as U.S. cases climb to more than 181,000 and deaths surpass 3,000, more than the number of people who died in the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. The death toll is expected to rise over the next few weeks as more patients flood hospitals, U.S. officials say.

Public health officials have long said the virus appeared to be particularly severe in the elderly and those with underlying health conditions. Symptoms can include a sore throat, runny nose, fever, dry cough, diarrhea or pneumonia and can progress to multiple organ failure or even death in some cases, they said.

A recent study published journal Pediatrics showed that some children can develop severe or critical disease. More than 90% of the cases were asymptomatic, mild or moderate cases. However, nearly 6% of the children's cases were severe or critical, compared with 18.5% for adults.

The CDC said Tuesday the findings were in line with data from researchers in China and Italy, where the number of confirmed cases has topped 105,000.

The CDC recommended people who are sick, especially those with underlying health conditions, should stay at home, except to get medical care.